Thursday, April 30

Johnson County Livable Community for Successful Aging Initiative Website Up and Running

Johnson County Livable Community:

The Livable Community for Successful Aging Initiative is publicly launching our website for growing up and growing older in Johnson County. The event will be held this Monday, May 4th, at 2:00 PM at the Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A.

The website, at, is the culmination of a cooperative effort of area governments, non-profits, and elder services organizations. The site is aimed at helping residents, potential residents, and their caregivers access current and comprehensive information about facilities and services in Johnson County for older adults. At you will find an up-to-date database of service provider listings that includes critical information like eligibility requirements, photos, an interactive map with directions, and cost of services.

Please join us for the kickoff on May 4 at 2:00 pm, at the Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A.

Two reported cases of H1N1 Flu in Iowa

To be clear, this is not one of the cases, nor should you engage in this activity. However, as you've likely heard, the University Hygienic Laboratory has identified two probable cases of H1N1 influenza (sometimes referred to as "swine flu") within the state, both involving southeast Iowa residents or visitors. One person who may have been infected with the flu attended a conference in Coralville.

According to the UI Critical Management Team:

Neither person has required hospitalization, and the Johnson County Department of Public Health is not recommending post-exposure prophylaxis (preventive treatment with antiviral medications) for people who may have come in contact with the Coralville visitor.

University officials, working closely with local and state health authorities, continue to monitor developments in keeping with the University's Pandemic Influenza Response Plan, available here:

Common-sense precautions remain the best way of reducing the threat from flu and other infections:

* First and foremost, if you are sick, stay home and limit contact with others until 24 hours after your symptoms go away.
* Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away.
* Cough into your elbow instead of your hand if you don't have a tissue.
* Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Use alcohol-based hand cleaners, too.
* Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
* Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
* If you are sick and need to see a doctor, call the doctor's office first for any special instructions.

Obama Hits A Home Run

It is hard not to praise Barack Obama for his press conference last night, particularly when you compare him to his immediate predecessor. The difference in the level of candor he showed in addressing his presidency's first 100 days were markedly different than President Bush. In discussing the state of the economy, his views on abortion, whether "enhanced interrogation techniques" qualified as torture, concerns about the Taliban in Pakistan and on and on, Obama spoke openly and directly.

When a NY Times' journalist asked him to address the things that surprised him, troubled him, enchanted him, and humbled him, President Obama carefully wrote the request down and thoughtfully addressed each point.

Surprised: Obama professed surprise, and not a little dismay, by "the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time." Most presidents he said deal with 2 or 3 things and his administration was dealing with 7 or 8 things.

Troubled: Obama said he was "sobered by,"The fact that change in Washington comes slow. That there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we're in the middle of really big crises." He added, "I would like to think that everybody would say, you know what, let's take a timeout on some of the political games, focus our attention for at least this year, and then we can start running for something next year. And that hasn't happened as much as I would have liked."

Enchanted: He and the press corp laughed at the word choice, but said he was "profoundly impressed and grateful" when he thought of his interactions with the men and women wearing the military uniform of this country from the "top brass to the lowliest private."

Humbled: He said his sense of imposed humility comes from the fact that the presidency, in all its glory, is only "part of a much broader tapestry" in a nation with many different centers of power. "And so I can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want, or, you know, turn on a switch and suddenly, you know, Congress falls in line."

For his critics who say that he wants the government to interfere with business he made the point around the government's current role with the automakers that he hoped to help them be competitive and said he really didn't want to be in that position for long because "I've got two wars I've got to run already." He went on to say that the government shouldn't micro-manage these companies it essentially owned, pointing out that he himself is not an auto engineer.

Finally, in summarizing he said "the ship of state is an ocean liner; it's not a speedboat." That he would work as hard in the next hundred days and all the hundreds of days to follow to put the country back on course.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, April 29

WHO Not Fluing Around-- Pandemic Probability Raised to Second Highest Level

The following are compilations form from numerous news agencies:

The World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert to 5, its second-highest level Wednesday, indicating the outbreak of the H1N1 virus flu that originated in Mexico is nearing widespread human infection.

According to the WHO, "while most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short."

The annoucement came as the number of people infected with the flu increased rapidly across the world, and health officials scrambled to get more information about the virus and has no vaccine. About 30 U.S. Marines in southern California on the biggest military base in the United States have been quarantined after one of them was confirmed to have contracted the swine flu virus, the Marine Corps said on Wednesday.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan declared the phase 5 alert after consulting with flu experts from around the world. The decision could lead the global body to recommend additional measures to combat the outbreak, including asking vaccine manufacturers to switch production from seasonal flu vaccines to a pandemic vaccine.

"All countries should immediately now activate their pandemic preparedness plans," Chan told reporters in Geneva. "It really is all of humanity that is under threat in a pandemic."

"It's a virus that we've never seen before," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"There's no background immunity in the population, and it is spreading from human to human, all of which has the potential for a pandemic."

The virus has been reported in 10 states, and the number of people infected with the 2009 H1N1 influenza strain grew to 91 in the U.S., the CDC said Wednesday. That number includes the first U.S. swine flu fatality: a 22-month-old child from Mexico who died of the illness Monday at a Houston, Texas, hospital.

Swine flu’s symptoms are similar to those of the regular flu: fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people also may have a runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

“If you experience any of these symptoms accompanied with fever over 100 degrees with a cough or sore throat, contact your health professional or doctor,” said registered nurse Susie Petro.

For FAQ's about safeguards, go here.

The Greening of Greensburg

From the tragedy that crises can bring, good things can happen. At 9:45 pm on May 4th, 2007 an EF5 tornado leveled the rural town of Greensburg, Kansas. The 1,400 folks in Greensburg decided that the tornado gave them the chance to reinvent their home town. Perhaps Greensburg's web site summarizes their vision best. It reads, "Greensburg: Better, Stronger, Greener!"

Led by Executive Director Daniel Wallach, residents started Greensburg GreenTown just days after the storm. The community came together and decided to rebuild sustainably, striving to become a model green town for the future. A grassroot organization, Greensburg GreenTown has worked side-by-side with city and county officials, business owners and local residents to incorporate sustainable principles into their rebuilding process.

They serve as an educational resource for the community, a conduit through which donations can be distributed, and a representative to those outside the community who are interested in the Green Initiative.

"This town is definitely an example for the rest of the world. We have people from around the world coming out of their way to come to Greensburg," Wallach has said. "So it's a great place for people to come and have an emerging experience with what a town of the future looks like and feels like."

According to CNN, "city leaders are using solar and wind technologies to harness power and geothermal heat. They're also conserving energy by building with solid concrete, using more natural light, and installing better insulation and state-of-the-art windows."

The first green home is being built, a silo-shaped building that will feature ground-source heating and cooling, solar hot water and even a vegetable garden on its roof. A study from the Department of Energy shows that versus conventional “stick” building are on average 15% less to build. But the more importantly, green homes can cost up to 70% less to operate. Over the life of a 30 year mortgage the savings, even at today’s energy rates (which are probably not going to last) an average sized home could save $30,000-$50,000. More here.

Greensburg GreenTown is building 12 more green houses with energy-efficient features. Wallach wants these to be "living laboratories" for educating people about energy-efficient construction.

"We want it to be fun and interesting for folks to come see and experience, and again both demystify and de-politicize going green," he said. "And once you experience it, you understand it in a way that simplifies it and in a lot of cases inspires people to want to do it themselves."

As Iowa considers how to come back from the floods of 2008, we might tear a page out of the Greensburg playbook and see how green can save us green in the long run. Who knows we might want to invite Daniel Wallach up for a visit?

Tuesday, April 28

Civil Marriage Applicants Treated Mostly with Civility

More than 380 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses in Iowa yesterday in 47 of the 99 counties. In Johnson County, 52 couples were issued civil marriage licenses at the County Recorder's office yesterday. Kim Painter, the County Recorder personally issued the licenses.

Protests were relatively minimal as officials around the state reported that those protesting same-sex marriage Monday were almost exclusively comprised of Iowans who simply dropped off petitions at county offices then quietly left without confronting gay couples.

A man prayed using rosary beads outside the courthouse in Council Bluffs.

In Orange City, a dozen opponents of gay marriage shivered on the steps of the Sioux County Courthouse.

One of the biggest groups of protesters was in Wayne County, with about 60 people. The group of mostly middle-aged residents gathered in a circle, prayed out loud, and sang a verse of "Amazing Grace" and entered the recorder's office to pray for her.

Wayne County Recorder Angela Horton objects to gay marriage. "There are recorders out there, like me, that think this goes against their beliefs," she said. "But we have to follow the code."

Iowa Rivers Get a Partial Reprieve From Factory Farms

In response to the Iowa House amending SF 432, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement released the following:

The Iowa House passed the "no manure on frozen and snow-covered ground" bill (SF 432) with strong amendments on Friday -- this happened thanks to your persistent pressure and that of other environmental groups from all across the state.

House members received thousands of messages from Iowans concerned about water quality and strong input from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which forced them to review the original proposed bill to expand the scope of regulation and close major loopholes.

This bill will ban the application of factory farm liquid manure on snow-covered ground during the winter months and part of spring (from Dec. 21 through April 1) and application on frozen ground between Feb. 1 and April 1.

We have been calling for tough regulation of manure application on frozen and snow-covered ground for a long time. The legislature picked up this issue because of our original pressure on the Environmental Protection Commission and Department of Natural Resources to construct a strong rule, and we weren't about to let a bill to pass that would continue to allow factory farms to pollute our waterways with this practice.

While amendments to SF 432 made the bill significantly stronger, we still have a long way to go. This regulation of factory farm manure application is a step in the right direction to protect our water quality, but Iowa must continue to stand up against corporate pressure and put people's health and our environment before polluters.

In the past few years, Iowa has nearly doubled the number of waterways on the impaired waterways list and a recent report from the United States Geological Survey pointed to Iowa as one of the leading contributors to the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. In these urgent times, we need to continue to call on decision makers to put people first.

Hats off to the organizers that made this change possible.

Robert Reich Explains Why We Should Be Mad About the Bail Out

A new video from Robert Greenwald narrated by former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich lays out the poor management that banks and corporations have demonstrated during our financial crisis.

Monday, April 27

Counting Down to a Flu Pandemic?

A very serious story that is playing out today is the flu outbreak that has officials across North America, Spain, France, Hong Kong, and New Zealand on high alert.

Reuters reports that a virologist at the University of Hong Kong who helped to fight SARS and bird flu, Guan Yi, said a flu-like pandemic looked inevitable. "I think the spread of this virus in humans cannot possibly be contained within a short time ... We are counting down to a pandemic." This as 149 people in Mexico have died as a result of the flu and Mexican officials closing down schools and other public places. The threat level or phase of the disease, with confirmed cases reported by the World Health Organization in Mexico, the United States, Canada and Spain, is at a high level: phase 4 out of 6.

The WHO defines Phase 4 as "characterized by verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.” The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic. Any country that suspects or has verified such an event should urgently consult with WHO so that the situation can be jointly assessed and a decision made by the affected country if implementation of a rapid pandemic containment operation is warranted. Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion."

The next phase is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Dr. Richard Besser was quoted as saying, "We are seeing rates of respiratory infections among contacts. This virus is acting like a flu virus and flu viruses spread from person to person." This means it is highly contagious and can spread relatively quickly.

Reuters also reports that the CDC had taken a sample of the virus causing the disease, produced a vaccine virus strain and was now growing it in eggs, the first stage in a vaccine production process.

"We certainly know that the work has begun to produce a vaccine," Gregory Hartl of the CDC said, adding that it would typically be 5-6 months from this initial development before a vaccine was commercially available.

Licensed to Wed, But Still Not Equal

Today is the first day that same-sex couples can go to their local courthouse and apply for a marriage license.

Lambda Legal provides these details of what constitutes marriage in Iowa as of today:

_Marriage requirements: Two people, over 18, not already legally married, not closely related and legally competent to enter into a civil contract.

_License: Applicants must show proof of identity, pay $35 fee, and have a witness sign the application. Three-day waiting period before wedding may be performed, although this may be waived by judge.

_Ceremony: Must be in Iowa, with both parties, an officiate (judge or leader of a religious faith) and two witnesses present.

_If a same-sex couple have been legally married elsewhere, their marriage is valid in Iowa as of Monday. It is not yet clear if civil unions from another state or registered domestic partnerships will be recognized in Iowa.

_For a divorce, one party must have been a resident of Iowa for at least one year.

Despite the movement to change Iowa's constitution, same-sex couples still will not have the same rights as other married couples because the Defense of Marriage Act signed by Bill Clinton and approved by Senators Harkin and Grassley in 1996.

DOMA states:
1) No state (or other political subdivision within the United States) needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state.
2) The federal government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriages for any purpose, even if concluded or recognized by one of the states.

As a result, same-sex couples who are wed in a civil ceremony in Iowa do not have the same rights where taxes, benefits and other privileges if the federal government or other states' laws are involved. The Des Moines Register has this story.

Thursday, April 23

Pulling Out the Stops

Grafton state senator Merlin Bartz is using the the state Towa Senate Republican Caucus website to encourage voters to petition county recorders to "appeal directly to you, our county recorder, to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples on April 27th, 2009, and every day after, until such conflict between the Supreme Court’s opinion and the law is addressed by a VOTE OF THE PEOPLE OF
IOWA." On the website supporters are asked to distribute the petition to "anybody you feel who would be inclined to help in this endeavor" and to "send a copy for accountability purposes to the Iowa Family Policy Center, 1100 N. Hickory, Ste. 107, Pleasant Hill, IA 50327."

In response, former State Representative Ed Fallon and his wife Lynn's group I'm for Iowa "plan to deliver to Secretary of the Senate Mike Marshall at 11:15 this morning their formal ethics complaint against Senator Merlin Bartz for encouraging county recorders to break the law by refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples."

"For a state senator to use his office and public resources to encourage other elected officials to disobey a unanimous ruling of the Iowa Supreme Court is unconscionable, and possibly a violation of state law,” said Ed Fallon. “Thus, Lynn and I have filed a complaint with the chair of the Senate Ethics Committee, Senator Jack Kibbie, inquiring as to whether Senator Bartz’s action is a violation of his oath of office.”

Meanwhile likely gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats will have a press conference at 11:30 today to pressure governor Chet Culver to use an executive order to stay Iowa county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning next Monday.

Tuesday, April 21

Culver in Iowa City For Jumpstart Bill Signing

According to the a press release from the governor's office via RIO (Rebuiding Iowa Office) Governor Chet Culver signed legislation today in iowa City to help homeowners affected by last year’s flood. Senate File 289 reduces the amount of time, from 10 years to 5 years, state-funded Jumpstart Iowa recipients must stay in their homes before their entire Jumpstart loan is forgiven.

“Last fall, when so many Iowans were struggling to recover from the floods and storms of 2008, state government took steps to help rebuild our state by creating the Jumpstart Iowa program, which included millions of dollars to help homeowners get back on their feet,” said Governor Culver. “With my signature, we are easing the administrative process on families and homeowners – to make this program more user-friendly, and to reduce the burdens loan recipients face. This is one of many steps we’ve collectively taken to rebuild Iowa and to help our state come out of the disaster of 2008 safer, stronger, and better.

In September, Governor Culver created the Jumpstart Program to help home and business owners affected by last year’s flooding and severe weather. One of the first major steps the State took to help homeowners and small businesses hurt by last year’s floods was to create the Jumpstart Business and Housing Initiative. Among Iowa’s small businesses, a total of 1,064 have applied for the program. 856 have been approved for Jumpstart assistance, and 677 have already received a check.

The second component – the Jumpstart Housing Program – provided homeowners 10 year forgivable loans for repairing their damaged structure or purchasing a new house; to date, a total of 2,471 homeowners have been approved for help. Jumpstart has obligated a total of $42.7 million, with an average award of $17,263 to Iowa homeowners. Under SF 289, Governor Culver and the legislature are helping homeowners by reducing the terms of these forgivable loans to 5 years. The legislation was passed unanimously by the House and Senate

Why Not Develop a River Authority System?

With the local efforts to pass a temporary sales tax to address the effects of last year's flooding, one has to wonder, why doesn't Iowa have a river authority system? Clearly there are benefits of managing the waterways that create the best outcomes for the most. For instance flood remediation plans could be done in coordination with other communities.

However, in looking at the individual plans for Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Coralville, and Iowa City, it is clear that folks downstream (like in ravaged Columbus Junction) will be the recipients of a lot of fast moving, heavy flowing water (with little ability to pay for infrastructure to keep it flowing downstream). This is an example of community NIMBY-ism at its worst and a reason that a river authority system is logical.

The best model for a river authority would include a voting membership from the municipalities and/or counties in the areas where the rivers and other tributaries run through, in addition to an advisory made up of concerned citizens, experts and advocates. In areas where it is the purview of the state to appoint members to the authorities, there have been problems, not the least of which is the potential for corruption (as this classic example shows.

Ultimately, given that forming an authority would take significant time, given the politics involved. Voters are left with the untenable decision to do something today with federal and state assistance (with the knowledge that others may be affected) or hold off and hope it doesn't flood again before a better solution can be proposed and funded at a cost that we would have to bear in full.

Something to Vegetate About

According to Care2.Com blogger Heather Moore, there are some very good reasons for people who care about the environment to be consider becoming vegetarians:

Farmed animals generate more greenhouse gasses than SUVs, tractor trailers, trains, and jumbo jets put together. According to U.N. scientists, the livestock sector is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Nitrous oxide is about 300 times more potent as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide. The meat, egg, and dairy industries account for a staggering 65 percent of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions.

• Nearly half of the water used in the U.S. is squandered on animal agriculture. More than 4,000 gallons of water per day are required to produce a meat-based diet; only 300 gallons of water a day are needed to produce a totally vegetarian diet.

• The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that factory farms pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. A Scripps Howard synopsis of a Senate Agricultural Committee report on farm pollution issued this warning about animal waste: "[I]t's untreated and unsanitary, bubbling with chemicals and diseased. … It goes onto the soil and into the water that many people will, ultimately, bathe in and wash their clothes with and drink. It is poisoning rivers and killing fish and making people sick. … Catastrophic cases of pollution, sickness, and death are occurring in areas where livestock operations are concentrated. … Every place where the animal factories have located, neighbors have complained of falling sick."

• It takes 3 1/4 acres of land to produce food for a meat-eater, compared to only 1/6 of an acre of land to produce food for a vegan. A new study, produced jointly by environmental groups and the soy industry, showed that cattle ranchers are largely responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. The U.N.'s report Livestock's Long Shadow says that the "[e]xpansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America, where the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring—70 percent of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feedcrops cover a large part of the remainder."

I've recently eliminated pork from my diet, this Earth Day, I'm taking beef out. I buy locally-raised chicken, so I'm not quite ready to flip the bird. Let our state legislators know that you support agriculture, but only the sustainable kind.

More facts here.

Monday, April 20

Dude, Who Took My Water?

Yesterday the Environmental Film Festival in conjunction with FAIR! and Environmental Advocates screened "Blue Gold: World Water Wars" and to say it was eye-opening is an understatement. According to Public Citizen, "31 countries are now facing water scarcity and 1 billion people lack access clean drinking water. Water consumption is doubling every 20 years and yet at the same time, water sources are rapidly being polluted, depleted, diverted and exploited by corporate interests ranging from industrial agriculture and manufacturing to electricity production and mining. The World Bank predicts that by 2025, two-thirds of the world's population will suffer from lack of clean and safe drinking water."

As proof that access to water and war are becoming inseperable, we need look no further than the West Bank where the World Bank reports Israelis have access to more than four times as much water Palestinians have in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The continued struggle in the Sudan is a result of limited water supplies and who controls them, as 44 per cent of Sudan’s population does not having a safe source of drinking water.

Even here in the United States the privatization of water supplies is underway. Some corporate interests want to sell bulk water from the Great Lakes, the world's largest freshwater system. Wisconsin and Michigan have been targeted by giant bottled water companies like Perrier to sell bottled water. As drinking water has been degraded, the bottled water industry is promoting its expensive product as the solution.

The Great Lakes have suffered from pollution, lost two-thirds of their extensive wetlands and experienced a catastrophic loss of biological diversity. Only 3% of the shorelines are suitable for swimming.

Cities have contracted their water services to private companies and now, according to the NY Times, serve about one in 20 Americans. The results have not been good. Atlanta, which contracted in 1999 with United Water seized back control when taxpayers complained of subpar water quality and United Water did not deliver promised improvements.

In smaller communities privatization has also led to problems. In Huber Heights, Ohio in 1993, American Water Works purchased Ohio Suburban Water that provided water for 40,000 customers. The city opposed the sale, concerned that the company would raise rates and extend service to areas beyond the city limits without annexation, thus impairing the city’s ability to grow. The company increased its rates by 30 percent and, at the same time contracted to deliver up to 2 million gallons of Huber Heights’ water a day to an industrial park located outside the city.

It is clear that the access to clean water is a right all people should have and our lawmakers should not aid and abet those that would seek to profit from creating misery either through profiting from operations, distribution, or polluting the water supply.

Harassment Expert to Speak in Iowa City

The City of Iowa City Human Rights Division is sponsoring a presentation on Preventing Harassment in the Workplace. Tom Good, Training Specialist II with the State of Iowa Civil Rights Commission will be the presenter. Good is a graduate of Iowa State University and has worked for the Iowa Civil Rights Commission since 1990. He is a seasoned discrimination complaint investigator and mediator.

The purpose of the presentation is to educate participants on state and federal laws covering illegal employment related harassment. Sexual harassment is the focus of the presentation, but illegal harassment based upon any protected personal characteristic is included and explained.

There will be two sessions on Friday, April 24, one from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. and the other from 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. Both sessions will be held at the Iowa City Public Library Meeting Room A. The program is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.

To register for a session, visit Please note registration is limited to the first 60 registrants. To receive more information regarding the presentation, or if you need special accommodations, please contact: The City of Iowa City Human Rights Division at 356-5022.

Saturday, April 18

Bloodletting in Iowa City?

Iowa City Council unanimously agreed to fire city manager Michael Lombardo yesterday less than a year after they hired him. Whether he was deserving of firing or an unwilling pawn in a game between the city council members themselves is open to wide speculation at this point. The one truth is that the city is in the market for a new city manager at a time when stability is most needed. Fortunately assistant Dale Helling is on hand yet again to lend his years of experience as acting city manager.

With a difficult vote ahead pertaining to the local option sales tax, it is puzzling why the city council might choose this moment to remove the city manager. Was it a difference between city prioritization, personality conflict, or a need to remove public glare from a council that has had difficulties seeing eye to eye behind the scenes? In a story in the Press-Citizen, council members chose to say it was a personnel decision and that the public wouldn't hear why from them. As for Lombardo, he is quoted in the Gazette as saying "“I think it came down to a difference in philosophy and understanding roles and expectations.”

Lombardo was unceremoniously escorted out of City Hall yesterday by an Iowa City police officer and will receive six months severance.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, April 17

Yes, No, Maybe?

The "Ax the Tax" and "Yes for All" folks are lining up their arguments and votes for the May 5th referendum. The question that comes to mind is who wins?

Regardless of where you are right now, the call for a new tax is not coming at an ideal time, but the issue is what would happen without the funds? Dubuque St. is a main thruway to the central business district in Iowa City and the University of Iowa and therefore is vital to commerce. The Park road and accompanying bridge are in need of repair due to last spring's flooding. The water wells that provide clean drinking water for thousands of Iowa City residents need to be reinforced and the sewage treatment plant has to be closed down or repaired to meet federal law within three years.

These projects price tags are steep and the outcomes for parts are uncertain. No one can say with absolute authority that Dubuque St. won't flood over again even if raised or what the effects downstream may be. No one can say with certainty whether other funds will need to be generated through water rate hikes if the economy continues to remain soft. The one thing that can be said with certainty is that the taxes to make these infrastructure repairs are limited to four years and that whatever can be done with them will be used by then.

Also, doing nothing assures us of exactly one thing. Things are not fixed and it all costs us more in the long-run if we experience flooding conditions like last year. For many people, this doesn't really count--they don't live near the river, they don't go downtown. as long as water flows out of their taps, there is nothing, on the surface, compelling to them to make a special trip to vote.

Thirdly, is this really a non-partisan campaign or is it politics as usual? If we look at the players on both sides, we do see many of the same folks, Deb Thornton, Michael Thayer, Pat and Lori Cardella on the Red team and pretty much the entire structure past and present for the Blue team on the other side. Should public safety matters be turned into idealogical battles? Probably not, but they do because there is always an ox to gore and always people ready to do it to keep control or gain power.

Finally, the process that makes things so uncertain is the cause of so much distrust. Had there been a community process for vetting the projects and having a better idea of the unknowns been in place, it would surely be easier to decide if these projects are cost-effective or just costly. With a public process, the issues surrounding land use and future use could be done openly. The problem it seems to me is that most people can't imagine a house without seeing a floor plan. I would urge those who think the tax is right to paint that picture in the next 16 days. The other side is doing a pretty good job of making their points known.

Thoughts From Sen. Joe Bolkcom

The following is from Senator Joe Bolkcom from his weekly Networker:

Angry Tea Party – What’s in that Tea?

Who isn’t mad as hell about how things are going in the America? We are in a deepening recession that has been caused by the irresponsible, greedy behavior of Wall Street and those in the so-called financial services industry that counted their paper profits as they turned their back on the ticking time bomb of the sub-prime housing market meltdown and years of a Republican philosophy of lassie fare capitalism that has allowed a no holds barred approach to executive compensation, unregulated lending schemes and virtual criminal activity in the management of our financial system.

Capitalism Gone Wild! Where were all the adults?

The house of cards has collapsed. And now all of us are being asked to pay; to bailout, to not allow the too big to fail. I never dreamed that I would be the part owner of the largest insurance company in the world! Mad? Count me in!

And all of this as the standard of living (income growth) for many Americans is slipping away as they work harder and harder to make ends meet. Trillions of dollars robbed out of our retirement accounts and home values. When is someone going to prison?

This frustration has welled up in anti-government Tea Party activism across the country. This week, three thousand people at the State Capitol, hundreds in Iowa City all mad at government and government spending. While I completely get the frustration and anger, I’m confused about the focus.

Cutting funding for our local schools, community colleges and public universities won’t do much to return value to the stock market or help our kids adjust to a changing world and economy. Laying off teachers actually will worsen the problem. Cutting health care spending will do the same. This is also the case for spending on public safety, prisons, courts, environmental programs and flood recovery efforts.

We actually need more, not less governmental regulation and oversight over the financial services industry.

I’m all for the activism. I just think it needs to consider far more carefully how we got here and recognize that NO ONE is very happy with all the not so optimal choices for driving this wreck out of the ditch. What's your analysis?

I'll get back to you Senator, you ask an important question which requires a thoughtful answer.

Youth Vote 2.0 Forum Literally at the UI

Despite the current generation being a bunch of Twittering, tweeting textperts, when they do get together in person some really good things happen. Witness the following:

The Roosevelt Institution is hosting an event on Friday, April 17, focusing on youth civic engagement. The Youth Vote 2.0 Forum will examine the role young people played in the 2008 election and ways young people are and can stay involved politically and civically. The forum will feature actor and activist Kal Penn, who recently accepted a job as Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Liaison. The panel also will feature Lee Brenner from Myspace, Kim Rogers from Rock The Vote, and University of Iowa student Hannah Joravsky.

Many dubbed the 2008 election the year of the "Youth Vote" because of the increased interest and enthusiasm of young people all across the country. What was felt all around the country started right here in Iowa during the Iowa caucus where 30,000 more young voters caucused in 2008 than in 2004. It is the aim of this forum to examine what happened and discuss what the future might hold. We hope you can join us.

What: Youth Vote 2.0 -- Change Has Just Begun featuring Kal Penn
When: April 17th, 6:30pm
Where: Pappajohn Business Building, Room W151
Who: Kal Penn -- Actor & Activist
Lee Brenner -- Political Director, Myspace
Kim Rogers -- Political Director, Rock The Vote
Hannah Joravsky -- University of Iowa Student

All Things Green and Blue

FRIDAY, APRIL 17th (At the Unitarian Universalist Church at 10 S. Gilbert St. in Iowa City) at 7:30 p.m.

Come to "Take This House and Float It Away". It is a play with a purpose: It wants to create a new culture around our attitudes toward and uses of water.

This original, hour-long, two-person play, from the Change of State Performance Project, is about a Sacramento couple, sitting in their floodplain living room, unable to comprehend the disaster that is imminent.

Admission is free and no tickets are needed; a free will offering will be taken. The play is sponsored by the Social Justice Coordinating Committee.

SATURDAY, APRIL 18TH (In the Pappajohn Business Building)

Want to put your passion into practice? Register FREE now for the Green Summit, a conference and expo for environmentally-minded students who want to learn practical skills from successful environmental leaders.

Green Summit Conference - 8:30 a.m. to Noon - Keynote Speaker Senator Joe Bolkcom
Expo - Noon to 5 p.m. (On the Pentacrest)


Sponsored by: UISG, UI Facilities Management, Green State Solutions, UI Environmental Coalition


Johnson County progressive group FAIR! is sponsoring the award-winning film "Blue Gold:World Water Wars" as part of the ongoing Environmental Film Festival at the Iowa City Public Library from 3 to 5 pm in Meeting Room A.

Tuesday, April 14

What The Other Side Says

There is no shortage of anger to the Iowa Supreme Court's decision concerning same-sex marriage rights as the quotes below highlight:

"Sen. Gronstal has formed a pact with the rabid homosexual rights lobby in Des Moines and is now working to ram their hostile agenda down your throat!"- Flyer from Iowa Biblical Families

"The Flood of 2008 is arguably the most destructive disaster that the state of Iowa has seen -- at least, that is, until last Friday."- Baptist Pastor from Cedar Rapids

"I believe this case is actually about going into churches and going in and attacking churches and saying you can't teach anything else."- Glenn Beck on Fox News (despite the Court's message that religious doctrine is unaffected)

"We believe the homosexual lifestyle is wrong... But we invite homosexuals to the church, and invite them to repent."- Rev. Keith Ratliff

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says that a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage is "outrageously wrong." He says the decision demonstrated "judicial arrogance."

Bryan English, spokesman for the conservative Iowa Family Policy Center: “Sure, we are disappointed. I would say the mood is one of mourning right now in a lot of ways, and yet the first thing we did after internalizing the decision was to walk across the street and begin the process of lobbying our legislators to let the people of Iowa vote. The Iowa marriage amendment needs to be brought to the floor for a vote before they adjourn for this session. This is an issue that will define their leadership, this is not a side issue, this is the core issue that they need to be addressing.”

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: “I support traditional marriage. I voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by President Clinton. It defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and prevents states from being forced to honor the decisions of other state courts. I also voted twice in 2006, in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor, for a joint resolution that would have amended the federal Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Now, to change what’s happened with the Iowa Supreme Court decision, the state legislature would have to take action.”

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa: “This is an unconstitutional ruling and another example of activist judges molding the Constitution to achieve their personal political ends. Iowa law says that marriage is between one man and one woman. If judges believe the Iowa legislature should grant same sex marriage, they should resign from their positions and run for office, not legislate from the bench … Along with a constitutional amendment, the legislature must also enact marriage license residency requirements so that Iowa does not become the gay marriage Mecca due to the Supreme Court’s latest experiment in social engineering.”

“The gay marriage movement has once again used the power of the courts to push an untruth on unwilling Iowans,” said Brian S. Brown, the executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, a group formed in 2007 to preserve traditional marriage. “Same-sex unions are not marriages, and Iowans should not be forced by law to treat them as such.”

"Same-sex 'marriage' continues to be a movement driven by a liberal judicial elite determined to destroy not only the institution of marriage, but democracy as well. The casual dismissal of the facts of human biology and thousands of years of human history, simply to pander to a small band of social radicals, is bizarre and indefensible," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC).

It is my hope that state lawmakers continue to focus on the state's economic and long-term woes, rather than to give in to political pressure. I trust Iowans to be fair-minded, as no marriages have been hurt by the courts decision, I would like to believe that legislators will stay focused on those things that are more likely to endanger families, lack of jobs, health care, and economic stability.

Monday, April 13

RIO Releases 1st Quarterly Flood Progress Report

The Rebuild Iowa Office (RIO) press release:

The Rebuild Iowa Office (RIO) has released its first “Quarterly Report.” The report includes a comprehensive look at the progress that has been made in recovery efforts from Iowa’s 2008 storms and floods.

The 70-page report provides an overview of the disaster assistance programs that have been implemented to help impacted Iowans; outreach to communities to assist with long-term planning; flood mitigation efforts; charts detailing the flow of disaster-related funding to impacted citizens; disaster recovery activities undertaken by various state departments; and photos taken of disaster-stricken areas. Long-term recovery challenges and goals remaining for Iowa are also addressed.

“This report shows the magnitude of this disaster and the recovery efforts that have been accomplished to date. However, there is still much work to be done,” said Lt. General Ron Dardis, Rebuild Iowa Office Executive Director. “While this report has been prepared for the Legislature and Governor Culver, we believe we must also do everything we can to convey the recovery’s progress and remaining challenges to Iowans and their communities.”

The report was prepared for Governor Chet Culver and Iowa legislators in accordance with House File 64. The bill, which was signed into law in February, made $56 million in state funds available for disaster recovery and officially established the Rebuild Iowa Office through June 30, 2011. The legislation also called for quarterly reports by the office to show progress in the recovery effort.

To access the Rebuild Iowa Office’s April Quarterly Report, visit the RIO Web site at The Rebuild Iowa Office’s next report will be released in July.

See Report Here:

The report reflects that only about $25 of $40 million dollars in housing aid has been processed and $20 of $30 million in SBA loans.

Three More Years, Three More Years!

According to the Gazette Online, MidAmerican Energy has been given three more years to equalize electric rate disparities between its three Iowa service territories.

The Iowa Utilities Board ordered MidAmerican in 2006 to file a rate
equalization plan for all customer classes by mid-2009, and implement the plan
starting in 2011.

Now MidAmerican will have until 2014, when its current revenue requirement
freeze expires, to begin equalizing rates under a board order issued this

Rates are lowest in the utility's northern zone, which includes Waterloo
and Sioux City. Rates in the eastern zone, which includes Iowa City, and
southern zone, which includes Des Moines, are both higher than in northern zone

Miya's Story: A Remarkable Life

Last night at the close of the Iowa City Documentary Film Festival, "Miya of the Quiet Strength" was shown in the University of Iowa's Buchanan Auditorium to a half-filled house. Perhaps because of the deep wounds that the film brings up Gang Lu, the physics PhD. candidate who went on a killing rampage on the campus in 1991 and was responsible for then student-worker Miya Rodolfo-Sioson's paralysis from the neck down, many people missed out on a powerful story of a person's choice to live her life fully and in forgiveness.

While I was not in Iowa at the time that Miya lived here, her story of activism both for those repressed in Central and South America, but also for the rights of person's with disabilities that she served in California in the last years of her life creates a remarkable personal tapestry. Add to that her family including mother Sonya and brother Renata who served as her caretakers, and it is hard not to be moved by the power of a family's commitment.

The film is a deeply personal, loving, and truthful portrayal of a woman who lived her life on her terms with incredible inner-strength. The documentary is beautifully filmed and includes photographs from Iowa City's own Mauro Heck and features others from the area who were part of her story.

The documentarian, Daniel Julien is trying to raise $15,000 to add close-captioning to the film so that it can be aired nationally on PBS. To help out, contact Daniel Julien. Or to purchase the video, go here.

Meet the New Boss, Similar to the Old Boss?

A major bone of contention between Democrats and Republicans during the last Bush Administration was what to do about NSA wire surveillance. Turns out that Barack Obama's Administration isn't doing better on this score. From

When he was just one of a hundred in the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama repeatedly stated that he would support a filibuster against any bill which would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies for their involvement with Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) activities.

Once he won the Democratic primaries to become that party's nominee, however, Mr. Obama changed his tune, voting for an intelligence surveillance bill he had opposed just months earlier.

Of course, the bill he had opposed was a slightly different version, but those lawmakers he stood with before had not altered their position, despite any alterations to the bill itself.

Last week, the Obama Administration sought to dismiss the suit brought in Jewel v. NSA, wherein the plaintiff organization sought to discontinue government surveillance of the records and communications of AT&T customers.

In its motion to dismiss and for summary judgment, the Administration argues, in part, that the plaintiffs cannot establish standing requisite to go forward with the suit because they cannot access necessary information to prove such standing. This is so because the state claims that the information the plaintiffs would need is subject to executive privilege as "state secrets", pertinent to national security, and are excluded from

Sunday, April 12

Iowa Soldier Among Dead in Iraq

As the U.S. gears down in Iraq to shift resources to Afghanistan, on Good Friday, 20 year-old Corporal Jason Pautsch, a squadron leader from Davenport, four other US soldiers, and two iraqi Security Force members were killed by a suicide bomber in Mosul. The bomber drove a grain truck with 2,000 pounds of hidden explosives into a security wall of the national police complex there killing the soldiers and injuring at least one US soldier, 27 Iraqis and 35 others.

Cpl. Pautsch had been in Iraq since last September. He was scheduled to come home next month for a few weeks then finish his tour of duty in October. Members of his family traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to be there when his body arrived on Saturday.

The Quad-City Times reports that his father David said “Jason just called Thursday at two o’clock, and we talked an hour. Twelve hours later he’s dead.” Pautsch, who is the president and CEO of L.W. Ramsey Advertising Agency and the founder and executive director of Thy Kingdom Come Ministries, said that he never let himself think that his son could be killed in action. “Maybe I was in denial. I thought for sure he’d come back in flying colors, live a long life and die of old age.”

The Associated Press reported that U.S. troops must leave the city by June 30 under an agreement with the Iraqis. About 2,000 U.S. troops and 20,000 Iraqi army and police officers are stationed inside Mosul.

The total casualties in Iraq for American troops and Iraqi civilians are 4271 and between 91,385 – 99,774 respectively. Pautsch is the second Davenport area soldier to die, Katie Soenksen was killed in 2007.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Iowa in Top 10 for Dead Zone Creation

Thinking globally and acting locally has an important meaning as it applies to the water quality in Iowa. According to the U.S. Geological Survey in it's first report measuring the effects of nitrogen and phosphorous runoff on aquatic life downstream, 9 states contribute over 70 percent of the dead zone-causing nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants. They are: Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi.

In January 2008, USGS identified commercial fertilizers and animal manure from farmland in these nine states as the cause of over 70 percent of the Dead Zone pollution. Evidence is mounting that the mandated push to increase corn production – one of the most fertilizer intensive crops – for ethanol exacerbates water quality problems within the states and in the Gulf. This year, the USGS identifies and ranks watersheds in the Basin by the amount of pollution that gets to the Gulf.

The U.S. Geological Survey also has released a new list with 42 Iowa watersheds among the top 150 that are polluting the Mississippi River Basin and contributing to an 8,000 square mile "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. That list is reinforcing the opposition of environmental and farm groups to legislation that would allow large Iowa farms to continue a practice of spreading liquid manure on ice-and-snow-covered ground in winter.

Among the 42 Iowa watersheds with the most serious nitrogen-loading and drinking-water problems are the Cedar and Des Moines River watersheds.

The Iowa House is expected to debate SF-432 this week which deals with the dumping of hog containment waste into the waterways.

More here and here.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, April 9

Iowa DHS Head Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

When Gene Gessow was called on by Governor Chet Culver last fall to head the state's Department of Human Services, he would not have known the misery it could cause him, but he could have guessed given the political football that DHS has been for lawmakers. With a budget shortfall and needs for human services likely to increase for the foreseeable future, it is troubling that Senate Republicans are lining up to block his confirmation. Gessow must receive 34 votes to be confirmed by the 50-member Senate (there are 32 Democrats and 18 Republicans in the Senate).

The DHS, which has 5,700 employees and a $4.6 billion annual budget is in a constant state of flux as Democrats and Republicans play tug o'war with its budget. Understanding this, Gessow wrote in a letter to DHS employees last week that "it is increasingly likely that budget cuts will require the Department of Human Services to significantly change the way we provide services to our customers beginning next fiscal year." This is short-hand for find ways to cut corners.

In an article in today's Des Moines Register, State Senator Jack Hatch said that the DHS may soon have to cut 350 to 500 jobs and services."(Those) are some of the changes we know we will see when we pass this year's tough budget," said Hatch, who is among the lawmakers who set the DHS budget. The DHS is facing an 11.3 percent cut in state money for the next budget year. Federal stimulus money may help, but layoffs and service cuts are still possible, lawmakers said.

However, as an editorial in yesterday's Register points out, "Many federal dollars from the economic-stimulus legislation were intended to protect vulnerable Americans. Dollars were specifically targeted to child welfare, foster care, food stamps and homelessness. State cuts shouldn't result in cutting the very programs and people who serve vulnerable Iowans." For a director of such an agency, he shouldn't have to fight to continue doing his job at the exact time his agency needs a firm hand on the wheel.

Gessow is one of the more experienced human services administrators. He was the state's Medicaid Director and before coming to Iowa, Gessow was the director of Medical Services for the Maine Department of Human Services. He also served as the deputy secretary for finance in New Mexico and the budget director for Massachusetts Medicaid. While he is widely being hammered for the handling of the Attalisa worker situation, the problems there began long before he was appointed. To his credit, Gessow is working with other department leaders to address how to make reasonable regulatory changes.

Anti-Gay Protestors Clog Iowa Capitol

According to to Iowa Politics, "Hundreds of opponents and supporters of the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v. Brien decision legalizing same-sex marriage descended on the Iowa Capitol Thursday morning and witnessed as Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy declined to call up a constitutional amendment to make marriage solely between a man and a woman."

In a movement to bring an ill-conceived amendment to the Iowa Constitution to the floor of the House, House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen made a "call of the House," and closed the chamber doors to not allow any legislators to leave.

Paulsen motioned that House Joint Resolution 6 which was in committee, calling for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, be placed before the body.

House Speaker Murphy said the motion to withdraw House Joint Resolution 6 out of committee and bring it to the floor was out of order, and the "call of the House" was out of order, as well.

Protestors led by former Rep. Danny Carroll, R-Grinnell were out in force. Carroll took Governor Culver to task saying he has “cozied up with the legal elite, the homosexual lobby” and “should resign or be replaced.”

“The truth is the Democrat leaders and the people who are calling the shots in the state Capitol don’t want a vote of this to go to the people because they know if they do they will be punished by the homosexual lobby,”

Carroll said. “Why won’t they even let the issue be debated?” Carroll asked. “What are they afraid of? They’re afraid of you. They’re afraid of what you think.”

In point of fact, the House under Republican leadership did pass a definition of marriage bill which was found unconstitutional last Friday by a unanimous State Supreme Court because it did not uphold equal protection under the current state Constitution.

Members of One Iowa counterprotested at the Capitol and encouraged supports to contact their state legislator's and call on them to ignore "Right-wing extremists... resorting to underhanded tactics in an attempt to undermine legislative leadership and take away the freedom to marry!"

Monday, April 6

Iowa Second on Happiness Index

Though I imagine the ruling by Iowa's Supreme Court on Friday would have no effect, we are the 2nd Happiest (financially) State in the Union.

According to Market Watch, "America's heartland - the Midwest - proved to be one of the most financially content parts of the country, with Nebraska grabbing the number one spot, followed by Iowa (#2) and Kansas (#3).

The ratings were based on a cross-section of key financial factors:
-- Average non-mortgage debt relative to average annual income
-- Foreclosure numbers
-- Unemployment rate

"Historically, there have been economic ratings that centered on the grimmest of situations. In contrast, with focused on helping consumers learn about saving, spending, and borrowing wisely, we thought it was time to inspire by pointing to the positive," said Harleen Kahlon, General Manager of "Still, it's important to look at where we need to improve and we hope that the 'Happiness Index' rallies leaders and residents in states that didn't make it to the top of the list to move up in the rankings over time."

I imagine if some of the folks who were flooded or tornadoed out of their homes were able to be reached, they might bring the rating down a little.

Flood the Hall: City Officials Discuss Tax Vote

The Cities of Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty will present information regarding the projects that would be funded with proceeds of a local option sales tax on Wednesday, April 8, from 7 to 9 pm at Coralville City Hall.

City leaders, including Iowa City Manager Michael Lombardo and Public Works Director Rick Fosse; Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth and City Engineer Dan Holderness of Coralville; and North Liberty City Manager Ryan Heiar and McClure Engineering's Adam Bohr, will present the projects their cities plan for construction if the local option sales tax passes on May 5.

Coralville City Hall is located at 1512 7th Street. The event will also be presented live on the Iowa City and Coralville cable television stations.

Voters of Iowa City and Johnson County will vote May 5 on a one-cent local option sales tax. If approved, this tax will be collected for four years, beginning July 1, 2009.

The Iowa City Council has determined proceeds from the tax would be used for elevation of Dubuque Street and reconstruction of the Park Road Bridge, and relocation of the North Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The Coralville City Council has determined proceeds from the tax would be spent on flood mitigation infrastructure projects. Engineering studies have identified $54 million in improvements for protection of low-lying areas for water levels of one foot above the 2008 crest.

North Liberty's City Council has determined that 100 percent of the sales tax proceeds would be designated for the construction and improvement of city streets, including Highway 965.

Additional information will be presented at the information night on April 8, with time for questions and answers.

About the election:
As a response to the natural disasters of 2008, the Iowa Legislature approved a measure allowing passage of the local option sales tax on a compressed schedule. The measure also allows for a single community in a county or metropolitan area to pass and collect the one-cent tax.

Each Johnson County community will vote individually to decide if the sales tax will be collected in their community, and each community's ballot specifies how its share of the revenue will be applied, if approved. A majority vote (over 50%) in a community will pass the sales tax for their community. Only communities that pass the tax will share in the proceeds.

The vote for this election is Tuesday, May 5, at regular polling places from 7 am to 9 pm.

Get to Know Your Food Source

My wife and I thought that buying our eggs "cage free" was a more humane choice. Turns out, we may have been deluding ourselves. A story from describes the conditions that even these so-called "humane" practices permit.

Both battery and free-range hens come from hatcheries, where after chicks are sexed in both industries all the males are destroyed. Additionally they all undergo debeaking and force molting, where they’re starved for about two weeks to trick their bodies into starting another egg laying cycle.

One investigation by Jewel Johnson of a cage-free farm resulted in her discovery of what the lives of 10,000 cage free hens were really like.

“The floor under my feet was cement, and the building was freezing cold with no heat in early April. I couldn’t see much for hens at all down the shed…it was just too dark. All I could see was black, all I could hear was crying of hens, all I could smell was ammonia – it was a cold, black cement hell,” she said.

Thankfully in the Iowa City area there are a number of egg sources that don't treat their chickens this way. My best advice now is "buyer beware", buy locally and get to know your food producer.

Sunday, April 5

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Get Important Things Done

With the national unemployment rate reported at 8.3% and states like California, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Michigan in the 10%+ category, are we moving beyond the realm of recession? If history tells us anything, during the great Depression, the national unemployment rate in 1930 climbed from 3.2 to 8.7 percent. By 1931, the unemployment rate went to 15.9% and by 1933, it rose to 24.9%.

The better news for us is that many of the safety nets in the securities and banking industry were installed as a result of the earlier depression. It is important to say that statistics lag behind reality so it is likely we will see poorer employment and GNP numbers before they go the other way. The one thing that is for sure is that job creation should be our number one priority and those jobs should be in the sectors that enhance human and structural infrastructure, reduce oil dependency, and reduce our carbon footprint.

Regardless of the economy of today, the bigger picture tells us that we need to change our business models to reflect the state of the world as it is and as it will be. Stabilizing banks and the auto industry without a thought of where the economy should go is short-sighted. With all of our taxes being gambled, the least that the government should do is demand that the money be utilized in the development of the next economic engines, e.g., electric or other alternative fuel vehicles, mass transportation, wind and solar power and improvements to the electric grids.

Money should also be invested in a nationally-networked health care system to which everyone has access. As long as health costs are keeping businesses at all levels from investing in research and development, job creation will be difficult to sustain.

Also, we need to move away from and "us and them" mentality when it comes to jobs. I have long been a supporter of unions, but I recognize that perhaps more could be done for the quality of life for workers of this country if liveable wage legislation were the tool for getting there. Then the time spent by management and workers could be focused on developing needed high quality products and services.

Finally education needs retuning. As long as we don't acknowledge that public education has a multi-purposed agenda: to have a highly literate, skilled workforce, to blend cultures to develop equity, and to form social tolerance through shared experience. However, what is lost in the picture is that schools of today must be more focused on the task of fundamental education at the lower levels and vocational preparation at the higher levels. Ultimately local school boards and workforce/economic planners should be engaged to have curricula that stress the practical as well as the intellectual needs of its community.

In these topsy-turvy times, we can choose to see our future as one where the sky is falling or we can see it as things are looking up. The one thing that is certain is that the rules of the game are changing and we need to look forward for the answers and we need everyone to pull in the same direction.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, April 3

Steve King and Tom Harkin: Strange Bedfellows

Clearly in the camp of not trusting the Iowa Constitution's equal protection clause, Iowa Rep. Steve King condemned the Iowa Supreme Court's Friday decision to lift a decade-long ban on same-sex marriage, saying it puts the state in danger of becoming a "gay marriage Mecca." While both insulting to Muslms and the GLBT community in making this bizarro comparison, he also insults the intelligence of many Iowans who do believe in equality.

"This is an unconstitutional ruling and another example of activist judges molding the Constitution to achieve their personal political ends," King said in statement. "Iowa law says that marriage is between one man and one woman."

Showing that bipartisanship can create strange bedfellows, Senator Tom Harkin with his disclaimer in making a statement about the Iowa high court's ruling strikes me as weak-kneed (though not as blatently dismissive of the court's ruling certainly as Rep. King). Said Sen. Harkin, “My personal view has been that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I have voted in support of that concept." It seems like an attempt to distance himself from a key group of his constituency at a time when he should be celebrating a win for their civil rights.

To his credit he does continue to say "I also fundamentally believe that same sex couples in a civil union should be entitled to all the basic legal protections and benefits of marriage. The Court found that it is necessary to afford same sex couples the ability to marry in order to allow them those legal protections and benefits. I will respect and support that decision and I hope that other Iowans can do the same." For a senator who has generally been supportive of justice and protection of rights, his equivocation does not sit well with me.

In any case, I'm sure many Iowans will support the conflicted views these elected officials hold. As Harkin himself said, "I know that this decision will be very hard for many to accept but I also know that it will provide many committed same sex couples and families important rights, as well as an important sense of recognition and belonging.” As for me, I am equally sure that many more folks here will live and let live--as this is first and foremost, the Iowa way.

Justice Prevails in Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the 1998 ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

“The Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution,” the justices said in a summary of their decision.

A rally was planned yesterday by One Iowa supporters at the Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City tonight at 5:30 pm regardless of the outcome. It looks like it will be quite a celebration now.

Thursday, April 2

Justice For Iowa's Gays?

If Iowa's Supreme Court metes out justice in interpreting the law, tomorrow morning will be a banner day for the rights of gay couples living in Iowa. If the Court rules in favor of equality, Iowa would join Massachusetts and Connecticut in allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry (Vermont currently allows civil unions). The decision that is due to be announced by down will say that gay couples have the right to marriage the same as other adults of consensual age.

According to an AP wire story:
Court officials today announced they plan to post the justices' opinion at the Web site at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

During oral arguments last year, attorneys arguing the same-sex marriage case before the high court framed the Varnum v. Brien case as one that pitted the ability to draw reasonable boundaries for society against infringing on the rights or a minority group.

At issue is a Polk County District Court ruling in a lawsuit brought by six same-sex couples that found the current state law unconstitutional. It defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

In seeking to overturn the district judge's decision, Assistant Polk County Attorney Roger Kuhl told the justices the basic societal underpinning of traditional marriage and family procreation would be undermined if they affirmed the 2007 district court ruling.

Conversely, Dennis Johnson, an attorney representing six gay and lesbian couples who brought suit after their 2005 marriage license applications were denied, said his clients were seeking the freedom of choice and marriage equality promised under Iowa's constitution.

According to One Iowa, "Rallies are currently being planned in the following cities: Ames, Cedar Falls/Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Decorah, Des Moines, Iowa City, Grinnell/Newton, Mason City, Quad Cities and Sioux City. Pending support from local organizers, additional cities may be added in the future. If you'd like to help organize a rally in your community, mark the check box on the sign up page or email"